Girdles & Belt Fittings
STYLES OF BELTS & GIRDLES - BELT MATERIALS
- BUCKLES - MOUNTINGS - BELT HANGERS
medieval woman's belt was usually known as a girdle. A woman's
wealth and status was, as usual, displayed in the costliness of
dress and accompanying accessories. Belts, whether made from leather,
metal or embroidered fabric were often as lavish as possible.
As with most forms of dress accessory, belts also came under fire
for ostentatious decoration. Preachers and clergymen found yet
another source of criticism for the vanity of woman. A 13th century
preacher from Paris, Gilles d'Orlean, rebuked women for their
affluence of dress and accessories chiding:
that Jesus Christ and his blessd
mother, of royal blood though they were, never thought of wearing
the belts of silk, gold and silver fashionable among wealthy
Some women were employed in the production
of decorative girdles, but not many. In 1344, the Guild of London
Girdlers regulated the employment of women in their ranks to:
their wives and daughters only
and no independent women.
of belts & girdles
The shape of the belt most commonly worn in the middle ages was
long and thin. The girdle was worn low on the hips with a knot
at the buckle and the remaining tongue hung down the front.
The pendant tag at the belt end is
known as a belt-chape. It is shown as the round knob at
the bottom tip of the belt seen here above at right. This existent
belt chape from London in the 14th century. Many had decorative
buckles and additional metal mountings which were often sewn on,
and most had a metal chape at the end. The higher up in society
a woman was, the more likely it was that her girdle would be ornate
with much in the way of ornamentation.
Belts were made of one of four materials- leather, woven braid,
embroidered fabric or solid metalwork. Peasant women wore sturdier
and more practical belts of leather. Almost all of these would
have been unadorned except for the buckle. Women
of better financial standing or breeding wore thinner girdles
of better processed leather or embroidered girdles with more elaborate
metal clasps or buckles. Where leather girdles were concerned,
it appeared that designs were also painted or stamped onto the
belt leather directly.
The belt at left is an example
of beautiful needlework and is known as the Branco Belt. It is
believed to be from the 14th century. It features a design similar
to that of illuminated manuscripts with flowers bordering windows
with birds and mystical animals.
Shown at right is a 15th century
belt made from cloth of gold with an ornate buckle set with enamel
and jewels. It is Italian made and dates to 1450. The two-pronged
tongue was popular on buckles towards the later end of the medieval
Margherita Datini, an Italian medieval
woman of means, listed two leather belts in her personal inventory
of 1397, a blue one and a black one, both with silver-gilt buckles.
She preferred the heavier belts to the lighter ones currently
in fashion and gained a terse reply from her husband to her wishes
to return one such belt:
if Margherita wanted to wear
what the peasant women wore, then all right.
Aristocrats and women of the high
medieval court also wore heavy, jeweled, metal belts and silk
girdles with gold embroidery, enamels, precious stones and metals
set into them. When Johnna, the daughter of King Edward I, married
Gilbert de Clare, it was recorded that she wore a magnificent
girdle of gold with rubies and emeralds which was bought in Paris
for the huge amount of 37 pounds and 12 shillings. At Queen Jeanne
of Burgundy's coronation in 1317, she was given four belts embroidered
with pearls. In 1319, Mahaut is recorded as giving a gift to his
niece of a silk belt trimmed with gilded silver. A 1305 record
from a mercery in Paris records a green silk belt with rosettes
of pearls and gold.
belt buckles ranged from the simply functional to the beautiful
and elaborate. Belt buckles of this time period featured the chape,
an oblong case of metal to which the girdle was affixed. Many
were of solid construction, although some finds have shown buckles
with a roller. Pewter, lead and tin buckles were not common before
the 14th century.
The London Girdlers Guild Charter of 1321 sanctioned only latten,
copper, iron and steel as suitable buckle-making materials. Cheaper
white-metal alloys proved to be popular regardless. The
belt buckle shown at right is made of copper gilt and is dated
between 1350 and 1400 from London, England.
until the 13th century, buckles are scarce in archaeological finds.
Buckles with a single loop were the most common type worn during
the 13th and 14th centuries, although the 15th century saw double
loop buckles become the most common. Single buckles continued
to persist though to the renaissance, on shoes and belts and dress
By the 15th century, even the very
poor were able to afford the cheaper, mass-produced buckles which
were readily available.
the left above, is a 13th century French buckle with rare enamel
detail which was found at the London waterfront. The most famous
factory of that period to produce high-quality, enameled buckles
was in Limoges.
right is a buckle from my own collection which was also found
in the London waterfront area. It is of English manufacture and
dates to the 14th century. The buckle has a plate with wriggle
work decoration and the rivets remain. The buckle and pin anre
unbroken and are still working.
The buckle mould at left comes from
excavations in York, England, and shows a single loop buckle with
plate- a very popular medieval style, and the most common in the
14th century. Many buckle plates were gilded, stamped with decorative
features or showed animals and saints.
Leather, woven and fabric belts were often decorated with metal
decorative pieces called mountings. These could be of any design,
although popular motifs included flowers and roses, heraldic devices
Shown below is a segment of a beautiful
14th century belt made from velvet fabric with extensive metal
mounts and decorative metal chape. It is interesting to note that
while some of the mounts appear to be part of a set design, many
of the other mounts do not appear to match anything at all.
The belt shown below is made from woven silk and has decorative
metal mountings shaped like a rose and a woman's head alternatively
mounted onto it. The belt is believed to be from the 14th century.
Many belt mounts on women's belts were made from silver, although
very often pewter was used to make imitation silver belt mounts.
During the 15th century, pewter belt mounts were widely produced,
especially after the restrictions were lifted.
Belts were not only a fashion accessory, they were also of a far
more practical nature.
Pockets had yet to come into vogue
and the belt was the usual place for a woman to secure her purse,
hang her chest or warderobe keys and her eating knife. For this
she might have used a metal purse hanger. A purse hanger is shown
above on the belt at the top of the page, source unknown, A woman's
purse was usually an ornately embroidered and tasseled affair
and it was as much a fashion accessory as a practical place to